Pride of America: The good, the great, and the needs work I would like to start by saying we loved the cruise and would definitely go again. I was going to use the old "good bad and ugly" cliche but none of it was bad or ugly. I would also like to address those who say that the service isn't as good on this ship because of the 75% American crew, we found this to be far from the case. Our room steward was excellent, main dining room staff was on point, and guest services staff were very friendly, in fact more friendly than we've encountered on other ships. Any problems we experienced were due to organization or layout issues (more on that later.)
Our free at sea package included a pre-cruise hotel night in Oahu at the Hyatt Regency and also free air from San Diego. We live in Atlanta but were able to get flights to San Diego with hotel for less than NCL was offering at the time. The transfers were $45PP which included all three stops (to hotel, to ship and to airport.) The flight was non-stop on Alaska Air, we got our flight details from NCL with 50 days to go. Initially we were not able to get seats together without paying an extra charge but a few days before the flight they released some of the premium seats so we were able to make a last minute change.
An NCL agent greeted us at baggage claim, but due to traffic and several incoming flights it took over an hour before we were on the bus and then another 45 minutes to the hotels (there was one stop before ours.) We spent a lot of time standing around at the baggage claim and it was a fairly long walk to the bus. No problem for us but be aware if you have mobility issues. The bus pickup area had plenty of seating and it would have been nice if they would have directed us there before waiting for the other flights but once we were at our hotel check in went smoothly and there were no issues with the reservations or flights.
We were instructed at check in to our room at the Hyatt that we should stop by the NCL desk set up at the hotel and where to find it. Our transfer to the ship went much more smoothly than the one from the airport. Two large buses met us at the hotel, there were much smaller ones at the airport. We left the hotel at 11:30 and it took about 20 minutes to get to the ship. Embarkation was a breeze, probably one of the easiest ever. We were on the ship before 1 and had a nice lunch and cocktails at the Key West Grille overlooking the pool.
My Aunt was traveling with us as well as my Sister and her family. We had initially booked two obstructed ocean view rooms on deck 7 but my wife and I were able to upgrade bid to a balcony on deck 9. My sister did not win her bid, we assume because she had four in her room and most of the balcony rooms are for 3. My Aunt had one of the four studio rooms on board. The rooms are similar in size to the Jewel class except for the Studio which was slightly larger than her room on the Escape. The studio lounge was fairly laughable (a windowless room with four chairs) although they did serve coffee and pastries every morning. They called staterooms by deck, I have not experienced this on other cruises, they were usually all ready at once. Our deck(9) was the last to be called so we didn't get to our room until after 3. Our room was very clean and everything was in good working order. The OV and balcony room did not have nearly as much storage as on Jewel or Breakaway class but the studio was comparable and actually had a larger refrigerator and shower than our room. The fixtures aren't the same as the other ships (no adjustable shower head) and there was also very little shelving and some sort of odd stainless serving dish used for a trash can. The balcony was also rather small but had two seats, foot rests and a small table and was very nice while at sea. Besides the layout and storage issues the cabin was comfortable and roomy enough for 2 people.
There are two main dining rooms on Pride of America (Liberty and Skyline) and they are on top of each other on decks 5 and 6 aft. It is easier to get to Skyline from the deck 5 elevators and if you are coming from the mid section you have to enter Liberty from the promenade deck. Also you will sometimes have people standing in front of the windows at Liberty. This didn't bother us but the other ships we've been on had the promenade or waterfront decks above the MDR so there was nothing to block the view. Both dining rooms have very nice decor and the service and food were excellent in both. The menu was the usual NCL fare with a standard menu and specials every night. I always like the steak and fries but I especially enjoyed the Asian style pork and cabbage.
We only did one up-charge restaurant-Teppenyaki- had a great chef and excellent food. The Teppenyaki is larger than the Jewel class, the ones on Jade and Pearl tend to get overly loud due to the small size which was not the case on POA. We did not have the dining package so we did not make reservations for any other restaurants although I recommend doing so in advance of the cruise. We tried to get in to Jefferson's Bistro several nights and could not get a seating time that was good for us.
The buffet layout and food choices were similar to Jewel class and the ship also has very nice outdoor and indoor seating but the placement of the bar and drink stations created traffic issues during busy times. The gold rush saloon is right next to the buffet and was the quiet zone for breakfast and also late-riser's breakfast and had tea time every day around 4. Cadillac Diner is similar to O'Sheehan's on other ships and was open 24 hours and also had self-service coffee all day.
Activities were similar to other ships although some of them did not have as much production effort. This is a very port intensive cruise with two overnight stops and no sea days and it is reflected in the daily offerings. The morning trivia was at the John Adam's coffee bar and the MC did not have a microphone. The afternoon and evening trivias were usually at Mardi-Gras which is similar to bliss lounge on other ships and was also where the white hot party and sock-hop took place. We also saw deal or no deal, not so newly wed and some other activities listed in the Freestyle Daily but we were in port most days so we did not spend much time on the ship during the day.
The cruise director's staff were all a lot of fun although we did not see much of the cruise director (again we were off the ship a lot.) We only saw one main theater show, Lights, Camera, Music which was good but not great. There were shows every night but we were usually too tired to go after being in port all day.
The pool and sun decks are very large and there was no shortage of lounge chairs even after all-aboard. There is also a small oasis pool and bar in the back of the ship which was quiet and usually had no children, probably because it is also the only smoking area. The last day there was a very nice pool side BBQ for lunch and we watched an officers VS guests water volleyball game, the officers were all in uniform while in the pool. Unfortunately I did not have my camera for that but it was a lot of fun to watch.
We did not do any ship excursions, it is very easy to rent a car or take a shuttle or walk to shopping in every port. Getting on and off the ship was easy in every port except Maui which has a very long walk through the pedestrian area with double fencing around the path. The shuttles are a lot closer than trying to exit the port through the pedestrian walk way but besides that Maui was easy to explore, we did Lahaina on day 1 and half way to Hana on day 2. Hilo was a shorter walk through the pedestrian area. Kona is a tender port so we did not rent a car there. Kona has the best shopping of all the ports within walking distance although also very nice shops in Lahaina on Maui. Kauai had the easiest walk and had overnight parking at the local strip mall with a shuttle for the rental car ($20.00 fee.)
...And now for the "needs work part: The ship itself is very beautiful but is showing age in a few areas. The railing on our balcony was badly in need of varnish. They were working on the railings on the pool deck while we were in port and replaced a few of them. I will also add that it rocks more than any ship I've been on. Nothing terrible but when we cruised in 2007 on what was then the Pride of Hawaii (now the Jade) the ship did not rock as much.
Disembarkation was chaotic and probably the worst of any cruise I've been on. Due to some sort of mechanical issue with the gangway we had to disembark on deck 3. Although they made several announcements there were people clogging decks 4 and 5 and traffic jams on the forward and mid stairwells. The last transfer was at 9:30, we were on one of the earlier ones but getting off the ship itself was a nightmare. I feel that in spite of the mechanical issue which could not be helped, the staff could have done a better job of directing people off the ship and had more people been encouraged to checked their bags it would have gone smoother. The baggage claim area is large and once we were off the ship things got more organized. The agent had our name on a register and we were directed to our transfer.
Overall we loved the cruise and had a great time but I missed being on a Jewel class ship. I think it's a matter of preference and sentiment because that was our first and best cruise and was also our honeymoon so I will always have a soft spot for the Jade. We might try one of the longer Jewel class cruises to Hawaii in the future but I would definitely cruise on POA again.
The room was large enough for two but the design is much better on other NCL ships. Bed was comfortable and everything worked. Not enough storage and we did not like the bathroom layout. Only one outlet in the room and no USB outlets in the lamps like on other ships. The balcony was smaller than other ships and the railing was badly in need of refinishing.
Easiest walk off of all the ports and the local strip mall provides overnight parking for the rental car with shuttle for a $20.00 fee.
This is a tender port and is the least industrial of all the ports. Very nice shopping within walking distance of the tender area.
Easy walk off the ship, port is also industrial but rental car companies provide shuttles.
Maui is a beautiful island but the port area itself is very industrial. Easy to take a shuttle but it is a long way through the pedestrian walk way. This is an overnight stop so it is easy to rent a car and most of the rental car companies provide shuttles or there are a few within walking distance.